One of the most exciting casting announcements in recent times was that Khushbu and Meena were going to be part of Rajinikanth’s Annaththe. Naturally, there was curiosity over the announcement. Two of Tamil cinema’s successful heroines from the 90s, Khushbu and Meena have played the female lead in several Rajinikanth blockbusters. Conventionally, older heroines do not get to play the female lead when they return to cinema. They turn into sisters, sisters-in-law, or even mothers of the same heroes they had once been partners of. Annaththe followed suit: Nayanthara was paired with Rajinikanth, while Khushbu and Meena played Kalaiyan’s (Rajinikanth) hung-up ‘morai ponnunga’ in a ridiculously unfunny track that did no justice to both women. Pachakili (Soori) says, “Ivanga close panna account-a reopen panna vandhrukanga.” The film and the treatment stop that from happening.
In a recent interview with The New Indian Express, director Siva revealed that when Rajinikanth asked him what kind of film he had in mind, he said, “It’s a film that has everything.” But when you watch Annaatthe, what this actually means: a mixtape of themes and emotions from their previous work. (If Viswasam was the battle between two fathers, Annaatthe is the clash of two brothers.) And they do not stop at their own work.
Annaatthe has pieces from almost every film in the ’90s and early 2000s, so much so that it feels like we have discovered the film from a time capsule. This family drama is so familiar that the audiences become autocomplete tools — it is enough if you just hear the beginning of the dialogue, you know the rest.
When Petta was announced, Karthik Subbaraj was quick enough to say that it would be a film for the fans, made by one as well. This was looked at with some apprehension by people who have grown to like the young filmmaker’s unique, maverick style of filmmaking. Will it be a Rajini film or a Karthik Subburaj film, they pondered. Well, now that the film is out, I see a lot of comments that it was a Rajini film rather than a Karthik Subbaraj one. Petta had almost all the motifs of Karthik (even though he says he doesn’t want to be associated, we have come to see a few in his films), even though he disappointed me in more than few places.
A constant feature of the Karthik Subbaraj story is that it weaves several genres or plot points that could have been independent films of their own. Similarly, Petta weaves in several genres into one mosaic with Rajini’s face on it. On one hand, it is a family drama, but there’s also a revenge saga, a campus story, a sand-mafia gangster tale buried in it. And there’s also the slightly bizarre but ironic endings that Karthik gives his characters. A laughter-hating don becomes a comedy actor; a blind man gets to see his family in Mercury… you get the drift. Petta has a similar ending for Pettavelan. Even the background score, is peppered with evergreen numbers from the yore — Anirudh gives a blazing soundtrack but at the same time you sense Karthik’s hand. The stylised visuals, the marginally darker frames — all are indicative of Karthik Subbaraj and his sensibilities.
Karthik has given us strong female characters; they are in the film because they make a difference. However, the women in Petta are a major disappointment. Right from his first film, Karthik’s on -screen women were in the story because they made a difference. Even Iraivi’s Malar (who has a comparatively smaller role than the other two women) is an admirably written character. However, in Petta, most of the women don’t have much to do except for the exception of Poongudi (Malavika Mohanan). As lovely as Mangalam (Simran) and Saro (Trisha) look, it was painful to see them be reduced to a few coy looks and smiles. Maybe, I wouldn’t have been so outraged if it had been someone else.
But this isn’t restricted only to the female characters. Petta has a long list of actors, in characters that don’t deserve them. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, for me, tops this list closely followed by Vijay Sethupathi and Mahendran. The more I think about it, the more Petta feels like a checklist film for Karthik Subbaraj. Considering he had Rajinikanth on board, did Karthik use Petta as an opportunity to work with all the actors he aspired to?
In more than one way, Viswasam, the other release for the week, and Petta are similar. Both are odes to the actor they idolise — it is about invoking the nostalgia and charm of the star they have become. (In fact, I am more excited for Ajith’s film with H.Vinoth.)
Petta is a handcrafted love letter from Karthik Subbaraj to his matinee idol. There are more than enough references to Rajini’s avatars and previous films — the pambu from Annamalai, the ‘Ulle po’ and rolling chair from Baasha, the ‘haaan’ from Raja Chinna Roja. While it was extremely enjoyable to see Rajini in a young, energetic avatar, haven’t we enjoyed Rajini in his all-charming glory for so many years? Why is it that we want the rest of Kollywood to evolve, but exclude the biggest stars out of the process?
Which is why Kaala will still be my favourite Rajini film of recent times. While fans might disagree, what Pa Ranjith and Rajini did was unique and it was new. It was Rajini exploring.
The first short film Balaji Mohan ever shot, was in his own room, with a handycam he had just received as a gift and was eager to try out. “Instead of just shooting a video, why not write a story and shoot it?” he thought. Titled Velicham, it was a one-man show about a suicide counsellor, written, acted and edited by him, which then reached several competitions. In one such competition, where Balu Mahendra was on the judging panel, Velicham won a special mention. And that was Balaji Mohan’s cue to get out of engineering and into the world of cinema. Continue reading “Balaji Mohan: ‘Don’ning the zany hat”
Anandaraj is one of those unique artistes who effortlessly fits into any role. Not too many actors can lay claim to being able to make us recoil in fear and also get us laughing till our stomachs hurt. He’s an actor who’s shown much variety. In his latest, Kalavani Mappillai, he plays Devayani’s husband. Remember that this was the very actor who played villain in Devayani-Sarathkumar’s Suryavamsam. “I do miss playing villain roles but I am glad I get more options now,” he says. Excerpts from a conversation: Continue reading “Films are too hero-centric these days: Anandaraj”
2.0, on many counts, has broken the standards for Indian film production. The film promised us a marvel that unfolds on screen, based on the vision of Indian minds. By and far, 2.0 fulfills that promise. The visuals are, at several points, breathtaking. But what makes it fascinating is that the ideas are so Indian and the mix, is intriguing. For example, Nila (Amy Jackson), a robot, is in love with Chitti, another robot (Rajinikanth). But how are we shown this? A soft breeze cradles her face, gently pushing her hair away — a trope that is so ‘us’. It is this infusion of our film culture and ethos into on-screen tech (Shankar is credited for ‘imagining the VFX sequences’) that makes 2.0 an entertaining watch. Continue reading “2.0 review: A fascinating celluloid experience”
Vijay’s first film as a lead was his father SA Chandrasekhar’s 1992 directorial Naalaiya Theerpu. In a sweet note, SAC (as he is popularly known) introduces his son as the hero. “I leave the future of my son Vijay in your (the audience) hands. You all have showered myself and Shoba with love. We hope that our son gets the same love and warm welcome as well.” It is quite fun to read this in 2018 when Vijay is one of the biggest stars Kollywood has produced. The announcement of when the first look poster of his upcoming film would be unveiled had set social media on fire. So you can imagine, the response his 62nd film Sarkar would receive. I don’t think even SAC would have predicted the degree of love that Vijay is showered with now. Continue reading “Happy birthday Vijay: From Ilayathalapathy Vijay to Thalapathy Joseph Vijay”
Would you believe me if I say there is a connection between Alfred Hitchcock, Sridevi, Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Sashi Kapoor, Waheeda Rehman, Nutan, Padmini and that it is hidden away in plain sight in one of Chennai’s busy lanes? Well, there is. The tad bizarre assortment of stars, amid multitudes of others, are all part of the massive collection of books and articles with 82-year-old Govindaraju. With a 50-year assortment, stars and cinema are just a humble part of this octogenarian’s wares. If you’re a bibliophile, cinephile or just an anachronistic soul, Govindaraju’s stories and his collections are a source of delight that you wouldn’t want to miss. Continue reading “This rare book store in Chennai is a paradise for the bookworms and cinephiles”
‘Pa Ranjith to direct Rajinikanth’s next’ — the headline was quite a surprise when it first came in 2015. They say failure feeds speculation and boy it did. After both Kochadaiyaan and Lingaa turned out to be disasters, Rajinikanth’s career became a topic at the dinner table. Is the Superstar losing his touch? What is he going to do next? It was at this time Rajini announced his next with Pa.Ranjith. A director with substantial political ideologies and craft, the combination was unusually exciting. While Kabali had disappointed, one thing cannot be denied. Rajini had gotten an effective makeover — a one that is closer home. Many thought the project would be a one-off occurrence, but here they are again with Kaala. Ranjith has given yet another version of Rajini that is a whistle-worthy version of the star that is more age-appropriate. Continue reading “Are new-gen directors the answer to our Kollywood stars’ stereotype woes?”
In Carnatic music, Sruthi Betham is when the singer misses pitch. Ironically, Rajinikanth’s first ever frame called him a Sruthi Betham. Pushing off a creaky gate, his entry into the glitzy, glamourous world of cinema wasn’t the brisk strut that is now immortal. He slowly walks inside and asks with a tinge of uncertainty, “Bhairavi veedu idhu dhane?” to Kamal Haasan. To Kollywood back then, everything that made Rajini who he is, was probably sruthi betham: his stylised gestures, the pace at which he spoke, his throaty laughter. As opposed to the more manicured Kamal Haasan, Rajini’s unconventional and raw style made him relevant to masses. And a new villain was born. Continue reading “Rajinikanth turns 67: From being a ‘Sruthi Betham’ to becoming a Superstar”